A special "thank you" you to Cookiefleck, Grumpy, Lily Baggins, Lynda, and Tigger for inspiring ideas for this chapter. And my thanks to all of you for taking another fun journey with me.
Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe
Chapter Thirteen: A Hobbit Walking Party
And in the morning they rose again in hope and peace; and they spent many days in Ithilien. For the Field of Cormallen, where the host was now encamped, was near to Henneth Annûn, and the stream that flowed from its falls could be heard in the night as it rushed down through its rocky gate, and passed through the flowery meads into the tides of Anduin by the Isle of Cair Andros. The hobbits wandered here and there visiting again the places that they had passed before. 'The Field of Cormallen', The Return of the King
Aragorn awoke the next morning from an unusually deep and restful sleep. His brothers had both assured him he would be well enough to return to camp today, and that the Men would see no signs of his illness, and he knew they had spoken truly. He lay quietly, eavesdropping amusedly on the hushed conversation going on around the breakfast table.
"But sir," Sam was protesting, "that takes all the sourness out!"
"Exactly," Frodo said firmly. He took another sip of the drink Aragorn had shown him how to make. Cold, fresh spring water to which a squeeze of lemon had been added had turned out to be quite refreshing -- when the juice of fresh raspberries and a bit of honey were part of the mix.
"And taste this," Frodo continued. Without waiting for a response, he squeezed a bit of lemon over the piece of grilled fish on Sam's fork and waited expectantly, his eyes shining with confidence. Sam tasted the fish, and nodded enthusiastically. It was delicious, with a tang that usually needed herbs for which he had not yet had time to search.
"You're both daft," Merry sighed, shaking his head.
"They're both geniuses," Pippin proclaimed, squeezing lemon onto his own fish.
"You can thank Aragorn," Frodo said, helping himself to another piece. "Apparently he lived here in the South years ago, and knows all about the ways lemons can be used. Some of them are quite palatable, are they not?" He fixed Sam with a look. "Still, I shouldn't like to discover that they've wandered into my tea by mistake."
Sam grinned. "I'll remember that, sir." He looked over at Aragorn. "Should we wake him? They'll be arriving any minute, and he's not eaten a thing. Who knows whether he'll get any breakfast up at camp, with all that King business he'll need to be about."
"I am awake," Aragorn said, opening his eyes. The sight before him would remain in his memory for the rest of his days: four hobbits smiling, eating, and gazing at him with fondness in their eyes.
"So, Samwise," Aragorn said, sitting up, "I see that your Master has had a change of heart about the lemons."
"That he has, sir, thanks to you," Sam said with delight.
Aragorn dressed quickly, donning garments more formal than those he had been wearing over the past days, then joined the hobbits at their breakfast.
"You are free to leave the grove now, Frodo, and roam wherever you wish," Aragorn said. "My thanks to you for thinking to house me here, and for allowing yourself to be confined for my benefit."
"I've enjoyed it," Frodo assured him. "It's been delightful being all together, and seeing so much of everyone. I've been wondering if perhaps we can be housed together in the City? I suppose you will have to live in a special place, but if they wish it, Gimli, Legolas, and Gandalf can--"
"An excellent idea," Pippin agreed. "Perhaps the King can arrange it."
"I will consult with him," Aragorn said with a smile. He pushed his empty plate aside and stood up. "Thank you, my friends, for your hospitality, your company, and your care. Sir Peregrin, it is time; would you please bring me my sword?"
Pippin proudly retrieved Andúril, and half-carried, half-dragged it to him. While Aragorn strapped it on, Pippin also went to the pack Legolas had brought, and drew forth the ancient, ornate box containing the silver circlet bearing a single diamond that Aragorn had worn when they rode to the Black Gate. He solemnly handed it up to Aragorn, who settled it about his brow. The four hobbits stared in awe. Their friend Strider was the king, and no one who ever saw him could doubt it.
Aragorn was sitting on the bed, pulling on his boots, when there was a call from outside. Pippin, Sam, and Merry dashed out to greet their visitors, but Frodo hung back.
"Thank you, Aragorn," he said.
"This has been a healing time for both of us," Aragorn said. "I hope you feel more at peace."
"I do," Frodo smiled. "I will never forget what you taught me; and I thank you for something else, as well. As much as Sam loves those yellow fruits, and no matter how much he spoke of covering the Shire in lemon trees, I know he wouldn't have planted even the smallest sapling if he didn't believe I'd enjoy having them there. I am most grateful that you taught me their merits. A gardener should always have new challenges and delights, and Sam deserves both. He deserves... everything."
"As do you, my friend," Aragorn said quietly. He knelt to embrace Frodo, overjoyed that his friend seemed so well. "Shall we join the others?"
They walked out of the tent, and were greeted by cheerful voices. Elrohir was pulling the King's standard out of the ground from where it had been set. Éomer sat astride Firefoot, and Elladan stood next to his own horse. They had also brought Roheryn for the King to ride back to camp, and Aragorn went to greet his mount warmly.
Frodo took Elrohir's hand, and drew him aside for a moment.
"Please take care of him," he implored.
"I swear to you, Frodo, that we will," Elrohir replied. "In the coming days, Elladan and I will need to take one more journey together, for a most important reason. Once we return to Aragorn's side, we will not leave it again while he lives."
"Thank you," Frodo said gratefully. He joined the other hobbits, who were standing near Aragorn.
"Come back anytime, Your Majesty."
"I will do so, Ring-bearer," Aragorn replied, his eyes twinkling. "After all, I will need to visit my bathing tub on occasion."
Aragorn mounted Roheryn, and Éomer took his place beside him. The sons of Elrond would ride on either side of them for the short distance back to camp. When the Men saw their kings and the Sons of Elrond arrive together, it would be an impressive and memorable sight.
"Bedrolls? Fishing line? Water bottles?"
"All set," Frodo said.
"Lots of it," Pippin said happily.
"Enough of everything," Sam said.
"Good heavens, Merry, we're only going six miles, not sixty," Frodo teased.
"I like to be prepared," Merry replied.
"I know," Frodo smiled, "and we do appreciate it."
Frodo was taking them to the meadow he and Aragorn had visited; he had wanted Sam to enjoy its beauty since he first saw it. Merry and Pippin asked to come along, and Aragorn and Éomer had willingly given them leave. They were all looking forward to spending a few days on their own.
"The stream is full of fish," Frodo reminded Sam. "Are we prepared?"
"We are, sir," Sam grinned, patting his pack. Several lemons were safely stowed away.
"I've been doing some thinking," Pippin piped up.
Merry eyed his cousin in mock alarm. "That can be quite dangerous... although you did have a wonderful idea about the beds."
At Pippin's suggestion, their four original beds had been taken up to the camp. When the small beds were pushed together, as had been done for Aragorn, several of the wounded Men could rest on them comfortably. The hobbits would continue to use Gimli's stacked beds, and with all the extra space, the tent felt even bigger than before.
"The possibilities are endless, you know," Pippin continued earnestly.
"For what?" Frodo asked.
"Recipes! Lemon pie, lemon pudding, lemon tarts..."
"Don't get too attached to those things," Merry warned. "We still don't know if the trees can be grown in the Shire."
"Sure they can, Mr. Merry," Sam said confidently. "We just need to build special houses to keep 'em warm, and make sure they get lots of care."
"That's good enough for me!" Frodo said with a laugh, clapping Sam on the shoulder. He turned to the others. "Shall we go?"
"Do you think we'll see oliphaunts today?" Sam asked eagerly.
"I don't know, Sam," Frodo replied. "But even if all we find are fish, I'll be content."
The hobbits left the tent, and Frodo took deep breaths of the fresh, green air. They would be in Minas Tirith soon enough – a city of stone, with curious crowds and strange ways. Boromir's city, and Faramir's... and now it would be Aragorn's, as well. Everything was about to change, yet again. But for a little while yet, there would be peace, and calm, and time to think. It was so much more than he'd thought to ever have again.
"Here we go, off on another hobbit walking party," Merry said cheerfully.
"So much has changed since we started out," Pippin marveled. "Strider is now the king, you and I are as tall as trees, Sam is the most famousest gardener in Middle-earth, and Frodo--"
"...is still Frodo, I hope," Frodo said with a smile.
"Bilbo will be so proud of you," Merry said. "But then, he always was."
"Thank you, Merry," Frodo said softly. He lifted his new pack and strapped it on. "Come, then; those fish won't catch themselves."
Pippin's clear, sweet voice raised in song as the four hobbits walked across the grass and through the trees that separated Cormallen from the rest of Ithilien. And the patrols, alerted that the hobbits would be wandering about, welcomed the sound with glad smiles, and light hearts.
** END **